Friday, August 07, 2009

The Plains Of Titan

With so many detailed maps of so many planets and moons being produced by interplanetary probes, task groups in the International Astronomy Union responsible for assigning names to features have strip-mined myths, Greek and Roman literature, Shakespeare's plays, lists of distinguished artists and scientists, and so on, and so forth (complete list of sources here). Now, the IAU's Working Group for Planetary Nomenclature has just announced its approval of the use of the term planitia for the dark plains Cassini has mapped on Titan, with 'the theme "Names of planets from the Dune series of science fiction novels by American Author Frank Herbert (1920 - 1986)."'

And why not? After all, those dark plains are covered in strings of giant dunes, albeit ones composed of grains of frozen hydrocarbons rather than sand. A pity this wasn't done a little earlier, though - I could have dropped in a neat bit of science-fictional recursion into Gardens of the Sun. First to be named is Chusuk Planitia, located at 5.0S, 23.5W - it's at the righthand edge of this map of Titan, just below the equator, or close to the centre of the disc of Titan in the photo at the top.

Actually, Herbert isn't the first author to be honoured in this way. Titan also features Xanadu and Shangri-la.

(Via Universe Today)


Blogger PeteY said...

Hi Paul, this is a subject that's close to my heart.

Way, waay back, back when the earth was young, in the mid 70s, when I was in my early teens, I was a member of the British Interplanetary Society. I wrote a letter to Spaceflight (their mag), pointing out that at some point in the future, exoplanets would be discovered, and noting that classical mythologies would be exhausted, and there would be a nomenclature gap. I suggested mining the works of SF authors for more names - Larry Niven's Kzin was uppermost in my mind at that point. I blush to think of it now, but they printed my letter - my first publication.

Now my blush is one of vindication.

August 08, 2009 2:31 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Pete, well, you were right. Doubt this will be the last example. All those peaks on Iapetus's great equatorial range to name, for instance...

August 08, 2009 8:37 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Oh dear. Piling Ossa on the Pelion of my embarrassment, I can't think of any SF mountain names. Perhaps you can help out. I'm stuck with Mt. Pointy, the Jagged Range, Eyepoke Hill and suchlike.

August 09, 2009 5:17 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Pete, How about Mount Lookitthat, from Niven's A Gift From Earth? Actually, my face is a little red too: it seems that mountains on Iapetus are being named after towns and castles in Spain and Southern France. I should have checked before posting! Still leaves plenty of other features needing names.

Casting this wide open, which SF novels would you use as a source of names, dear reader? Bearing in mind that according to IAU rules, the author must be dead . . .

August 09, 2009 9:54 am  
Blogger saint said...


I'll say it again, !!!!

That's the coolest thing I've heard all weekend.

August 10, 2009 12:33 am  
Blogger Michael said...

"Heywood Floyd" would make a good name for a peninsular, I think. The Gully Foyle Mountains, maybe. Tramalfadore Ridge? How about using Cordwainer Smiths work as a source? That would be full of wonderful names (and as a bonus, they would all link back to Earth mythologies.)!

August 10, 2009 2:22 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Foyle Gully, surely? Find a tiger-striped one on Mars and it's a no-brainer.

August 11, 2009 3:07 am  
Blogger PeteY said...

Actually, I suspect Eris was named science-fictionally, even though the name is classical, owing to the prominence of matters Erisian in the Illuminatus trilogy. The unofficial name (before IAU named it officially) was Xena. I'd suggest features on Eris should be named after entities in the trilogy. Fernando Poo, Golden Apples, and those long lists of imaginary rock bands (some of which came to pass, such as Justified Ancients of Mu Mu) would all count as candidate names for surface features. It won't happen for a long time though, as no mission is even in the planning stages.

August 11, 2009 3:22 am  

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